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Monday December 11th, 2017 11:44PM

The Latest: Tillerson says climate change exists

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on activities in Congress (all times EST):

11:42 a.m.

Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state says climate change does exist and the risk is great enough to warrant action.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson didn't say what action.

Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday the increase in greenhouse gases is "having an effect." But he says the "ability to predict that effect is very limited."

The president elect has sent mixed signals on climate change. He has brushed it off as a Chinese hoax and also said "nobody really knows."

Tillerson says he came to his personal position on climate change as a scientist. He says Trump has invited his thoughts on the contentious subject. "I feel free to express those views," he says.

Tillerson also says he would recuse himself as secretary of state from matters that involve Exxon Mobil.

___

11:08 a.m.

Donald Trump's choice to be secretary of state says he's not had a conversation with the president-elect about U.S. policy toward Russia.

Tillerson's statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee came despite the intense focus members of Congress have had on Russia over allegations Moscow meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump win.

Tillerson says he favors keeping the current sanctions against Russia in place until the Trump administration takes office.

"I would leave things in the status quo so we can convey it could go either way," Tillerson says.

Tillerson also says Russia's targeted bombing in the Syrian city of Aleppo "is not acceptable behavior" but he's declining to flatly say that Moscow is guilty of war crimes. He says he'll wait until he sees detailed intelligence before making that decision.

___

11:04 a.m.

Transportation secretary-designate Elaine Chao says the Trump administration wants to unleash the potential of private investors to boost the national transportation networks that underpin the economy.

She told senators at her confirmation hearing that economic gains are being "jeopardized" by aging infrastructure, rising traffic fatalities, growing congestion, and a failure to keep pace with emerging technologies.

Chao, a former labor secretary and deputy transportation secretary, is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell stole a line from a predecessor, former Senate Majority leader Robert Dole, while introducing Chao: "I regret I have only one wife to give for my country." Dole's wife, Elizabeth, is a former transportation and labor secretary.

Chao quipped back: "I will be working to 'lock in' the majority leader's support tonight over dinner."

___

11:00 a.m.

Protesters briefly interrupted Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing for secretary of state.

One woman shouted, "Please don't put Exxon in charge of the State Department. Protect our children and grandchildren."

She was one of two women holding "Reject Rex" signs who stood up, one after the other, in the cavernous chamber where the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding the hearing. The protesters were quickly removed by U.S. Capitol Police.

Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, faces hours of questions Wednesday about President-elect Donald Trump's foreign policy plans.

___

10:47 a.m.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is resting at home after having a pacemaker installed this week.

Feinstein, 83, said in a statement Wednesday that the procedure went smoothly and was undertaken out of caution.

The implantation was performed on Tuesday after Feinstein participated in questioning Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions in a hearing on his nomination to be attorney general.

Feinstein says she'll return to a full schedule soon.

___

10:45 a.m.

Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, says sanctions can be a "powerful tool" but they disrupt American businesses.

The CEO of ExxonMobil opposed sanctions levied on Moscow following its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014. The penalties cost the energy giant hundreds of millions of dollars.

He also has spoken of his general opposition to sanctions.

On Wednesday, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "The fact is, sanctions, in order to be implemented, impact American business."

Tillerson also said he never personally lobbied against sanctions and neither, to his knowledge, did his company.

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10:38 a.m.

Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, says it's a "fair assumption" Russian President Vladimir Putin knew about Moscow's meddling in America's 2016 presidential election.

Tillerson is telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he's not privy to the detailed intelligence about Russia's hacking. But he says he read the declassified report released last week about Russia's interference.

Tillerson says in response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, he would not describe Putin as a "war criminal."

Rubio says Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and bombing in Aleppo should not make it hard to say that Putin is responsible for war crimes.

Rubio has said he has "serious concerns" about Tillerson as America's top diplomat.

___

10:30 a.m.

An immigrant brought to the United States as a child is testifying on the second day of Sen. Jeff Sessions's confirmation hearing for attorney general.

The Alabama senator has opposed President Barack Obama's program to allow young immigrants who came to the United States as children to go through background checks in exchange for a promise they would be safe from deportation.

Oscar Vazquez earned a degree in mechanical engineering and served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

Sessions opposed the comprehensive immigration bill that would have given a path to citizenship to the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally.

Testifying on behalf of Sessions, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey called Sessions "principled, intelligent, honest and thorough."

___

10:25 a.m.

Rex Tillerson says Russia had no legal right to annex Crimea in 2014.

President-elect Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state is telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he would have advised a more robust response than the Obama administration delivered.

The Exxon Mobil CEO is telling the panel that the U.S. should have told Russia that the land grab "stops right here." He adds that "If Russia acts with force, that requires a proportional show of force that there will be no more taking of territory."

Tillerson opposed the sanctions the U.S. levied on Moscow following its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. The penalties cost the energy giant hundreds of millions of dollars.

___

10:02 a.m.

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state should make clear how he plans to pivot from the "mindset of oilman" to that of the nation's top diplomat.

Sen. Ben Cardin made the distinction at Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing Wednesday, saying there's a difference between being driven by profits and serving as the president's top adviser on critical foreign policy issues.

Cardin also criticized Tillerson for not mentioning in his prepared opening statement to the committee didn't address Russia's meddling in the 2016 election as detailed last week by U.S. intelligence agencies. The president-elect has been dismissive of the findings.

Democrats say they are concerned about Tillerson's business ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. They are expected to press Tillerson on whether he agrees that more and tougher sanctions against Russia are needed. Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship in 2013.

___

9 a.m.

A group allied with House Republican leaders says it is spending $1 million for a TV ad praising GOP efforts to replace President Barack Obama's health care overhaul with "a new path forward."

Repealing Obama's law is Republicans' major legislative initiative this year.

The American Action Network was presenting the ad nationally during a "town hall" with House Speaker Paul Ryan on CNN Thursday. It will also be broadcast this month in the districts of 10 House Republicans who won tight 2016 elections and five other senior GOP lawmakers.

The ad features soft-focus shots of happy families and never mentions Obama's name.

The announcer says Republicans will provide "more choices and better care at lower costs" without "disrupting existing coverage."

She says, "House Republicans have a plan to get there."

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